"Would you like some more Champagne?" says the host, even when pouring an American sparkling wine. There is a difference between Champagne from the Champagne district of France and other sparkling wines. Anything else is not Champagne, even if it is bottle fermented. This is a critical issue for the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC). Legally, in the European Union, sparkling wines from outside Champagne can only be called "methode traditionelle" or "methode classique." In 2006, the U.S. banned the use of the Champagne name except for wineries already using it, being "grandfathered" (so you see Cook's or Andre being called "Champagne"). In the U.S., "methode Champenoise" is still legal, a rankling point for the CIVC. But Champagne houses owning American sparkling wine producers never use that term, only methode traditiionelle. Petilliant Naturelle wines ("Pet Nats") are called "methode ancestrale," bottle fermented sparkling wines without disgorgement. 

In the December issue of the Review of Washington Wines, you will find several American sparkling wines that are designated as methode traditiionelle or (incorrectly) methode champenoise. They are well made sparkling wines, but they are not Champagnes. 

There is a shortage of Champagne in the U.S. due to shipping delays. Many containers of Champagne and other European sparkling wines (French Cremant, Italian Prosecco, Spainish CAVA and German Sekt) are waiting to be unloaded at American seaports. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered one of our favorite brands of Champagne from Esquin and found out that it was sold out. As substitutes, I got these two which we found to be outstanding. Both come from proprietares-manipulants - grower-producers - who grow and make their own Champagnes. Generally proprietaires-manipulants produced more interesting Champagnes than those from negociant-manipulants from the well-known houses.

N.V. R. Dumont & Fils Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature ($50.99 - Esquin) - This wine was aged 4 years on the lees (instead of 3) to give it extra richness to counterpoint the zero dosage. It displays a brilliant light copper color, streaming bubbles and enticing aromas of fraises de bois, nectarine, orange peel, pink roses, orange blossoms and whiffs of orange incense. The flavors are laser-like yet rich and expansive, with notes of grape skins, nectarine stone and distinct minerality. The resonance continues on the back with bracing fruit acids counterpointed by a leesy texture and fraise and Cointreau liqueurs, all followed by a lengthy, bone dry yet finely fruited finish. 19+/20 points.

N.V. Jean Vesselle Champagne Brut Reserve ($51.99 - Esquin) - From Bouzy, which grows mostly Pinot Noir, this is a striking Champagne. It exhibits a light copper color, fine streaming bubbles and lovely aromas of wild strawberry, peach, mandarin orange, cantaloupe and orange tree blossoms. The flavors are exquisitely wrought, with red and yellow fruits that are interwoven with grape skins, peach stones and saline minerals. On the back, the wine takes a tantalizing turn with fraise and pêche liqueurs, melon rind and recurring orange peel, followed by a lingering CO2 lifted, persistently minerally Brut finish. 19+/20 points.

Happy Thanksgiving

Once again, I have to say that Thanksgiving is a distinctly American Holiday and should be celebrated with American wines. My recommendation is to have a not too tannic wine (steer away from Cabernet Sauvignon) such as a Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir. A sparkling wine such as those in the December issue of the Review of Washington or a California one (Chandon is one our favorites) will also do nicely. Just don't call it Champagne. Enjoy your dinner with your favorite American wine!